On June 12, 2021 at 8 am sharp, one of the oldest and respected motorcycle rally's is set to open: The Laconia Bike Week. Located along the beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee shore, motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the country will sweep into the region to enjoy a variety of events specifically geared to motorcycle enthusiasts. These events include everything from live entertainment, such as the bike races at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, local motorcycle stunt shows, to friendly bike competitions. There are also more than enough motorcycle vendors to satisfy even the most experienced rider, The big three motorcycle rally's are Daytona, Sturgis and Laconia. Combined, all three attract well over one million bikers and motorcycle fans each year. While Laconia is the smallest of the three, it's by no means the least. Its long and rich history, set among the backdrop of gorgeous Lake Winnipesaukee, make it one of the most loved motorcycle events in the states.
Weirs Beach, New Hampshire
Located in Belknap County on Lake Winnipesaukee, Weirs Beach is the location of the Laconia Bike Week, and has been since 1916. Also known as "The Weirs", this beach is the pride of the community. Known as the hub of Laconia Bike Week activities, it's also a well-known tourist destination in its own right. Offering tourists everything from fresh water, mountain views, fabulous eateries, hotels, cottages and homes for rental, "The Weirs" is the perfect setting for the third largest bike rally's in the country. However, as perfect as it sounds, it was not without its issues, and one of those was the Weirs Beach Riot of 1965 which occurred during Laconia Bike Week.
Weirs Beach Riot Of 1965
"A lot of people running and I remember . . . I saw police chasing people into their motel rooms," St. Clair said. "I could hear gunfire, police officers firing shotguns." Charlie St. Clair. The above quote by Laconia Bike Week participant Charlie St. Clair, is his first hand report of what happened that fateful night in June, 1965. It was that night when the festivities got a little out of hand. So much so, that local cops, state troopers, along with the National guard had to quell the violence. It all began with a group of bikers overturning a car and setting it on fire. From that point on, chaos ensued with law enforcement feverishly trying to end the violence. In the end, 37 bikers were placed under arrest and over 100 other bikers suffered injuries. The riot was so earth shattering and unexpected that the story even made the front page of the New York Times.
The Beginning: The Gypsy Tours
Fans of sci-fi/fantasy have their comicons and conventions, and motorcycle enthusiasts have their Gypsy Tours. Though they are called rally's by most nowadays, the American Motorcyclist Association still calls them by their original name, Gypsy Tours. The year was 1916, the year that the Laconia Bike Week was officially born. Around 150 or so riders arrived to Laconia on their Harley Davidson and Indian bikes, complete with "Gypsy" flags. This didn't mean that the riders were Gypsies. Instead it referred to bikers and the miles they needed to cover in order to reach Laconia. In 1917 S. Lacy Crolius chairperson of the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association, created the first Gypsy Tour, which would last a mere 2 days, stating the event would "bring out at least 20,000 enthusiasts of the two and three-wheeled sport."
Back in the day, these Gypsy Tours could be found all across America In the beginning, these tours lasted around one weekend to five days, and hosted a variety of events. However, back then these tours were less about selling and more about having a good time. According to an article posted in 1919 in the Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated magazine, the purpose for all Gypsy Tours were to “to provide a good time for the riders, and theirs wives, sisters, and sweet-hearts”; and second, “to create a more favorable public opinion of the motorcycle and motorcycle riders.”
By the time 1917 rolled around, the FAM or Federation of American Motorcyclists made the Gypsy Tours official, and handled the Tours until 1924 when the AMA took control. Now in the hands of the American Motorcycle Association, the Tours became larger with more events. One of those events during Laconia Bike Week was the popular motorcycle racing event that took place in Gilford, New Hampshire in 1938. Today, the bike race is still a popular event, but now occurs at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
The Endurance Run: One of the Most Popular Events
As can be seen in this playful cartoon, the Endurance Run was one of the most popular and anticipated events in Laconia Bike Week history. It was here that bikers could test their metal against fellow bikers. In 1918, the perfect score award was a watch fob given to bikers who achieved a perfect score. The Endurance Run was a marathon of sorts, where bikers raced for long distances gathering points for various tests, all on public roadways. These tests included brake and hill climbing tests. A perfect score is 1000 points was awarded to the winner. Those who didn't score the 1000 points, but who finished the marathon, were awarded bronze medals, while those who came in second received silver medals and the ones with perfect scores received gold medals. Finally, the diamond award was given to the rider who achieved the perfect score while exhibiting consistent riding while maintaining a neat appearance.
Laconia Bike Week Today
Today, over 300,000 bikers regularly attend Laconia Bike Week. Those in attendance have a plethora of activities to look forward to. Not only can they visit the bike vendors, enjoy live entertainment and food, they can also take in the sights of Weirs Beach. For instance, they can spend some quality time visiting the Mount Washington cruise ship, enjoy some old-fashioned fun at Monkey Trunks amusement park, or hit the Weirs Drive-In theater. Restaurants such as the Tower Hill Tavern and Compass Cafe will ensure that they'll have access to good quality food during their stay. The wild and rowdy days of the 1965 riots are over, and have been for some time, so gather the family together and plan on spending a few days at Laconia Bike Week. You'll be bringing the young ones up right, creating another generation of motorcycle enthusiasts.
Seeing that its been attracting bikers from all over the country since 1916, Laconia Bike Week has been hailed as the first, and oldest official motorcycle rally in the country. Gypsy Tours, as they were once known, were groups of bikers who came from near and far to rally's such as Laconia, with the first rally seeing around 150 of them. Since then, thousands of bikers have enjoyed the scenic views of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Laconia Bike Week originated not just for a celebratory purpose, but to encourage others to enjoy the sport of motorcycling. Today, it stands along with Daytona and Sturgis motorcycle rally's as a consistent reminder of the eternal spirit of freedom, and its riders exemplifying a unique lust for life that has yet to be matched.
Written by Benjamin Smith
Read more posts by Benjamin Smith